Egon Schiele, ‘Reclining Girl [Handzeichnungen]’, 1920, Jason Jacques Gallery

Vienna, 1920
Verlag Ed. Strache, Publisher
15 collotypes in a limited edition of 500, with a special edition of ten that included an original drawing by Schiele. This print is from portfolio number 253.

Handzeichnungen was published two years after Schieles death, yet it is in one respect a technical advance over the Zeichnungen portfolio. The inclusion of multicolor collotypes increased difficulty of production, but indicated a desire to fully capture the beauty of Schieles watercolor and gouache paintings. Monochrome prints of nude models express a greater concern for compositional experimentation than for erotic titillation. Yet the portfolio exhibits the internal contradictions of Schieles personality, most evidently through portraits of his wife Edith and her sister Adele.

Appropriately, the first print is a self portrait, in which Schiele addresses his audience with a bold, confident expression. Although the publisher probably determined the order of the prints, the self-portrait establishes Schieles primacy as the creative force behind the portfolio. Prints like Seated Female Nude with Orange Drapery and Kneeling Female Semi Nude still manifest Schieles drive to sexualize his models, but this tendency gives way to a greater concern for unusual poses and points of view in most of the female nudes. In addition, the restrained delicacy of Young Womans Head provides surprising insight into Schieles artistic range.

From a biographical standpoint, the portraits of Edith and Adele Harms are of particular interest, since they betray the tensions that plagued Schieles relationship with his wife. In Portrait of Frau Edith Schiele, the artist portrays his wifes eeriness and depression with startling frankness. In contrast, Portrait of Adele Harms, depicts Schieles sister-in-law like many of his professional models: Adele’s skimpy outfit, black stockings and provocative pose firmly place her within the body of Schieles erotic female figure studies. The fact that Schiele simultaneously courted both sisters in 1915 before marrying the more conventionally attractive Edith is well known. Adeles willingness to pose like a model-prostitute for Schiele as late as 1917 implies a disturbing ongoing connection between them. Although there is no evidence that Schiele and Adele Harms were ever lovers, sexualizing her in his art undoubtedly contributed to Edith’s unhappiness. Despite Schieles determination to assume the role of a mature artist and husband, the portrait of Adele Harms betrays his refusal to conform to middle class standards of appropriate behavior. This personal conflict is stunningly revealed in Handzeichnungen, and is one of the most compelling aspects of the portfolio.

About Egon Schiele

A great innovator of modern figure painting, Egon Schiele is known for creating erotic and deeply psychological portraits, on many occasions using himself as the subject. Schiele often used color sparingly, his work identifiable instead by his characteristic sinuous black line. In his many self-portraits, Schiele is typically nude and staring directly towards the viewer, making the works both revealing and confrontational. Schiele’s female subjects are often nude as well, their bodies portrayed in various contorted positions. Whether representing himself or others, Schiele’s pictures are strikingly raw and direct. A student of the famous Symbolist artist Gustav Klimt, Schiele’s body of landscapes (though only a small collection) evoked Klimt’s folkloric tone and flattened compositional space. Schiele was prolific, but his artistic career ended tragically when he fell victim to the Spanish flu in 1918 at only 28 years of age.

Austrian, 1890-1918, Tulln an der Donau, Austria, based in Vienna, Austria